TAPACHULA, Mexico, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Defying the efforts of four governments to break them up, thousands of mostly Honduran migrants rose at dawn on Sunday from the shores of a river between Guatemala and Mexico and continued their trek northward.
But even as the U.S.-bound caravan moved into Mexico, Mexican police in riot gear were deployed at highway junctions, as a military helicopter circled overhead, prompting many migrants to wonder if police will make mass arrests and seek to turn the caravan back.
The migrants pose a challenge to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s promise late last week to stop the travelers’ plans to press ahead to the U.S. border without the proper documents.
Many of the bedraggled travelers of the swollen caravan appeared determined to keep moving, saying they are fleeing a toxic mix of violence, poverty and endemic corruption and would not turn back.
“We’re going to make it, we’re going to keep moving so long as they don’t stop us,” said Honduran Jaffe Borjas, 17, marching alongside a childhood friend at the head of the giant column that stretched far down the highway to the horizon.
The multitude of migrants clogged the highway leading north from the border city of Ciudad Hidalgo in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, many breaking into song.
“If you send us back, we will return!” a large crowd shouted in unison under the intense glare of the morning sun.
“We are not criminals, we are workers!”
U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to halt aid to Honduras and Guatemala, and potentially close down the U.S. border with Mexico with the help of the military if the migrants’ march is not stopped.
Mexico’s government has said throughout the past week that it would register the migrants and process requests for asylum. Those attempting to skip the process would face deportation, but the size of the caravan will test Mexico, which has sought help from the U.N. to manage the issue.
Encamped for two nights using backpacks for pillows and tents made of trash bags on a long bridge between Guatemala and Mexico, the migrant caravan began in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, last week and grew exponentially as it passed through Guatemala.
On Saturday, Mexican immigration authorities only allowed some 640 migrants through the official border crossing on a bridge spanning the Suchiate River.
The slow pace of legal processing prompting several thousands to cross the river illegally by raft or swimming, according to local officials and migrant organizers.
Reporting by Delphine Schrank; editing by Diane Craft